Excavation work has started at Carrickfergus Castle in Co Antrim, Ireland’s best preserved Anglo Norman castle, in a bid to find out more about the 800-year-old fortification.
Archaeologists began test excavations at the site last week as part of the ongoing work by the Department of the Environment to uncover more of the landmark’s history and to help guide future development of the castle to improve visitor experience, the Irish Independent reports.
The castle boasts a long and storied history.
Constructed in the late twelfth century by John de Courcy, an Anglo Norman knight, the castle lies on the stretch of coastline where King William III landed in Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Its history includes sieges by King John in 1210 and Edward Bruce in 1315. In 1760, it was captured by the French under Captain Francois Thurot.
The British Army used the castle until 1928. During World War II, it housed air-raid shelters.
According to UTV, the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, Queen's University Belfast, will carry out the work in Carrickfergus Castle on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency over the next three weeks.
The test excavations are to be carried out in two locations. One area of testing will focus on the remains of the Great Hall in the Inner Ward; the second area of testing will be in the outer ward to find out more about the date and survival of the archaeological layers.
Major renovation work is to be carried out on the castle and the archaeological excavation is to be completed before the new building work begins.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced last year that the dungeons are to be opened up as part of the renovations. The renovation work will also see the roof of the Great Tower replaced and the opening up of the ammunitions room.
Durkan said of the excavation: "This is an exciting new phase in the life of Carrickfergus Castle.
"We do not know yet what we will find in the excavations and we want to make sure that any new discoveries become part of visitor experience at the site.
"I announced major funding for heritage-led development at sites such as Carrickfergus, Dundrum and Tullaghoge which will help strengthen Northern Ireland's unique heritage offering for all visitors to our treasured sites."
The excavations will be fenced off for safety reasons, but visitors to the castle will still be able to view the excavations as they take place.
Carrickfergus Borough's Mayor, Alderman Billy Ashe said, "This is a notable development and I look forward to witnessing the excavations at first hand.
“For visitors to the castle during the course of the next three weeks, the opportunity to view a live dig is an exciting proposition and will undoubtedly enhance the visitor experience.”